Can individual feed conversion ratio at commercial size be predicted from juvenile performance in individually reared Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus?

Feed conversion ratio (FCR), the ratio between feed intake and body weight gain, is of major interest for improving aquaculture sustainability through reduced feed costs and environmental impacts. Demonstrating whether FCR measured in juvenile fish is an accurate predictor of their performance during the whole rearing period is critical to developing genetic improvement programs for this trait. This is especially true for estimates obtained in individually reared fish, for which this has high implications regarding the size of the necessary rearing structures. We obtained individual FCR from 30 male Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus from the GIFT strain individually reared in a recirculating system, from 36 to 260 g mean weight. They were fed twice a day and uneaten pellets were counted every day to determine the feed intake of each fish. Individual growth was monitored every week. Feed conversion ratio was estimated over two-week periods and over the whole rearing period (210 days). Phenotypic correlations between the two-week FCRs and global FCR estimations were mostly significant (ranged from 0.38 to 0.64). A significant phenotypic correlation between growth and FCR was also found: faster-growing fish had a better (lower) FCR. Individual breeding values for global FCR were estimated using FCR phenotypes from the present study and previously published heritabilities for FCR in Nile tilapia. Potential estimated genetic gain for global FCR was 2.2% per generation with 50% selection intensity. When selecting fish on their FCR from only a two-week period, approximately 50% of the reference genetic gain could be obtained with the same selection intensity. FCR measured during a two-week period at juvenile stage could be a moderately accurate approximation of the whole rearing period FCR, and could be used as a lower cost criterion to select for FCR in future genetic improvement programs using individual rearing of fish.